enforcement agencies reach out to communities but many Latinos
still remain wary
By Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent
Toledo: A high-level contingent of federal law enforcement
officials held an unprecedented meeting with a wide
representation of Northwest Ohios Latino community leaders and
activists in Toledo September 16, 2010Mexican Independence
The goal is to promote a new initiative of collaboration with
Latinos against common enemies such as labor and sex
However, for many of the Latinos in the audience, the seeds of
suspicion and mistrust planted, nurtured, and harvested over
generations and decades may be difficult to dispelespecially in
light of the recent immigrant bashing seen around the United
States towards Latinos and Arabs.
The informational meeting was organized and coordinated by
Angelita Cruz Bridges, the newly-minted civil Assistant
United States Attorney (AUSA) in the Toledo branch of the U.S.
Attorneys Office. Among the key speakers were Tom Pérez,
U.S. Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights and Steve
Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
Also present were high-ranking officials from the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security, ICE, U.S. Customs and Border
Patrol, and the office of Ohio attorney general Richard
The downtown Toledo assembly drew a wide range of Latinos
including Judge Keila Cosme of the Sixth District U.S.
Court of Appeals, Toledo councilman Adam Martínez, Toledo
Public School Board Chairman Bob Vásquez, Toledo City
Prosecutor Arturo Quintero, Toledo-Lucas County Port
Authority board member Margarita De León, community
activist Ramon Pérez, former Toledo Council member
Lourdes Santiago, and many others actively involved in
Dettelbach introduced Tom Pérez, the point man for the
presentation, citing his long résumé of public service including
stints as counsel for Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the
Senate Judiciary Committee, deputy attorney general for the
civil rights division under Janet Reno, secretary of
labor of the state of Maryland, and a senior official on the
transition team of president Barack Obama. Pérez is now
the U.S. Department of Justices leading civil rights official
where, under attorney general Eric Holder, he was at the
forefront of mounting the successful federal challenge of
Arizonas S.B. 1070 anti-immigration law.
Pérez was heralded as being the person who wrote the book on
human trafficking and how to deal with it.
Pérez spoke of his agencys success in prosecuting hate crimes
targeting immigrants and the increased presence of hate crimes
on the Internet. They not only spew vitriol but they threaten
people, and that is a federal crime, he said before changing
focus to the issue of human trafficking,
We have a dedicated human trafficking unit with 94 outposts in
U.S. Attorney offices nationwide. We work with ICE and other
federal agencies including our local law enforcement
counterparts from the First Responders onward.
Unfortunately, that was not exactly an inspirational message
when only minutes earlier the story had been recounted of the
murder of a Latino immigrant in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania not
too far from here in which it was revealed that one of the
First Responders was the de facto stepfather of one of the
assailants and subsequently those indicted for the hate crime
included five of eight members of the police force including
the chief and his deputy.
Pérez also praised our non-profit partners such as victim
witness programs and spoke of the internationalization of our
efforts. This is no different than gun or drug trafficking.
There are very complex and violent international cartels
involved in the trafficking of humans. Whether it is sex
trafficking or labor trafficking, this is a hotbed.
It is not just happening in Los Angeles, New York, or Miami. It
is everywhere. It is a problem in Northwest Ohio because of the
rural aspects of immigration and the easy availability of I-75
and the other corridors. We are working with our partners in all
the areas of civil rights including fair housing, fair lending,
employment, education, and voting, added Pérez.
However, some in the audience seemed uncomfortable with Pérezs
attempts to build a coalition. Their concerns appeared to be
based upon longstanding fears that government agencies such as
ICE were more concerned about deportations of undocumented
individuals, particularly in this current environment of
anti-immigrant frenzy whipped up by rightwing elements.
Pérez said that even President Ronald Reagan had
advocated immigration reform, but he acknowledged that its
opponents who talk about border security want to see the
borders hermetically sealed before they talk about immigration
He cited the results of his most recent visit to Arizona where
they have doubled the number of Border Patrol agencies and you
can see the results. Local sheriffs told me the jail population
is down 20 percent.
Thats when activist Ramón Pérez spoke up echoing a
strong sense of frustration from many in the audience. There is
a gap between the state agencies and the border patrol. We dont
know who the good guy is or the bad guy. Their attitude in the
past has been one of let them eat each other up. Speaking from a
lay community perspective and not as a social service agency or
attorney, it may be difficult to accomplish.
Tom Pérez responded by explaining he had attended a meeting in
Detroit with federal law enforcement agencies, the NAACP, and
Muslim-American groupsthree diverse groups who also have a long
history of mistrust.
Said Pérez, I was told after the meeting by the gentleman from
the NAACP that he never thought hed have the FBI on his speed
Pérez then challenged Ramón Pérez to do the same even
if it took a year and more meetings of this nature.
This prompted a response from outspoken sex trafficking
coalition organizer Celia Williamson of the University of
Toledos social work department who quipped, I didnt think Id
ever be hanging out with nuns, the FBI, and ICE.
So will a meaningful dialogue result from meetings such as
thisespecially when so many migrant farmworkers are
undocumented and dont want to see local police agencies
involved in enforcing immigration issues?
Were only as good as our word, said Tom Pérez.
He vowed to take the success his agency has had in prosecuting
sex trafficking and impart it to labor trafficking, whether it
be of migrant workers, restaurant workers, industrial workers,
or immigrants who are abused.
Other questions posed by advocates in the audience involved the
fear of undocumented workers reporting domestic violence abuse
if even the victims are afraid of deportation.
A Department of Homeland Security official explained that there
are fewer than 100 ICE special agents in Ohio and another 100
involved in detention and removal. There are no more than 200
officers in the entire state. ICE does not drive around looking
for people who are here unlawfully. It is not in our mission or
mandate. No one in Ohio or Michigan is randomly driving around
looking for anyone, other than ICE officers serving warrants,
Pérez asked rhetorically How do we build that trust with
immigrants when sex trafficking and human exploitation are very
strong in this area?
Activist Williamson said when authorities were first approached
by us about sex trafficking, they said it wasnt a problem here.
Judges and churches said it didnt exist here. And the ultimate
focus upon Toledo as a center of this activity ultimately proved
That inspired others in the audience to speak up with questions
like: How can we really start trusting each other? How do we
work together if we cant trust you?
Tom Pérez believes the problem can be solved. Step one is to
build levels of communication and levels of trust, he said,
adding: It requires a leap of faith and will take a lot of